Tips for the neo-con project

At last, says Clive Davis, someone has written a fair article on the Neo-conservative ideology. What a shame then, that this fairness does not extend to the other side of the debate.

In The Times, Stephen Pollard of the Centre for the New Europe, discusses how a person’s Left-or-Right political leanings no longer has a bearing on what their stance on British foreign policy will be. As Clive says, its important to point out the humanitarian aspect to neo-con policy… but Pollard comits a dirty sleight-of-hand:

It might, after all, be thought reasonable to identify democracy, freedom and human rights as key components of a left-wing approach. And yet the reaction to the Iraq war shows that this no longer applies

Innocuous, but actually very naughty. The implication, throughout the article, is that only one side of the argument has human rights at heart. The implication is that by questioning the wisdom of war, those on The Left were reverting to an anti-americanism factory default, with support for the Islamo-facists an unwitting side-effect. It also ignores the worry held by many worldwide, that there were other, less noble reasons for war.

The mistake that Stephen Pollard makes, along with countless others on both sides of the debate, is to misunderstand the nature of the argument. It is not a debate about where the concept of human rights falls in our list of global priorities. Mine is an unpopular belief: that there are people in both the pro-war and anti-war camps who had the best interests of the Iraqis, their fellow human beings, at heart when they took their stance.

For me, the debate about the Iraq war was not ideological, but practical. Dictators should be stopped, no question, but my objections were over the best way to achieve that aim. Telling lies over WMD and ignoring our blood-stained hand in the history of the region was not a good footing for a military campaign. If the intervention had been managed more honestly, I may have had a different view… but pencilling a war into your diary for six months hence, then constructing a forty-five minute justification afterwards, is not a viable strategy. Although confident that we would defeat the Saddam regime itself, I was never confident that we would ‘win’ the war in the sense of acheiving our human rights objectives. Indeed, as a piece The Times published earlier this year shows, the soul searching by war hawks who have had second thoughts is almost entirely based on practical considerations. It is not the morality of toppling a dictator that figures, but the manner in which we did it. Suggesting that we could have chosen a different way is libellously painted by the hawks as against human rights.

Pollard also mocks the idea that there is some kind of project for “American global dominion” of which the Iraq war was a part. But I would suggest that it is actually those in the pro-war camp, our own leaders no less, who allow this accusation to flourish. Their pitiful attempts to wish away the WMD transgressions merely fuel the theory of American Imperialism. Certainly it distracts from the humanitarian case for intervention. Despite their reputation for being slick spin-doctors, the neo-conservatives have presented their argument appallingly, in no small part due to the inarticulacy of their chief spokesperson, President Bush. If the neo-cons wish to invoke the name of Henry Jackson and his ideas of principled intervention, they had better damn well demonstrate those principles before they start trying to convince the rest of us. An honest account of how we came to war, and why we previously supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, would be a fine start. Until then, they cannot take the moral high-ground that Stephen Pollard claims for them.

Basra, and the benefit of the doubt

I am in a dilemma, because I don’t know what to think about the happenings in Basra this week. I am also feeling quite frustrated, because I know that whatever I end up thinking, others will say that I am being woefully naive; that I have been conned by the conniving of The Other Side.

First, our attention has been drawn to some deeply suspicious activities carried out by our British forces. Questions are left unanswered: Why were the two SAS soldiers operating in plain clothes? Does that make them illegal combatants? Why did they have so much weaponry in their vehicle? And most worryingly, why did the British bulldoze a police-station in order to liberate these two men?

Despite this, and despite my distrust of the US/UK governments regarding this issue, I am not convinced that British forces are staging flase-flag operations, as some blog sites have been asserting. There are many possible reasons why these soldiers were carrying so much ordinance, other than for the purpose of executing a terrorist attack during the Karbala festival. Crucially, it is not clear to me how a false-flag operation would benefit a government which is politically committed to winning a War on Terror.

On the other hand, I recall just how frustrating it is when people dismiss a suggestion of underhand dealings. Many people simply did not believe that the great British Government would exaggerate or fabricate the reasons for going to war in Iraq. That they are still credulous allows Tony Blair’s misjudgment to go unpunished.

My only offering is one on political discourse. We have to recognise that there are good people in the world who simply give the benefit of the doubt where we do not; and vice-versa. I rarely grant George W Bush this benefit, even when he appears to be up against an Act of God such as Hurricane Katrina. But people with a more conservative outlook will do so. Conversely, I do tend to give George Galloway MP, the benefit of the doubt where others will call him a Ba’athist apologist.

So it is with the Daily Mirror hoax, and the recent events in Basra. Whether you side with the British forces or the citizens of Basra depends not on your analysis of the facts, which are scarce, but on how your political opinions have shaped your world view. Thus we have the camp of people who condemn the Iraqi police-force as an insurgent-riddled lost cause; and the group on the other side who claim that it is the British forces who have been provoking all the troubles.

When commenting on any political issue, the real challenge is to present evidence that convinces people who are not already predisposed to your point of view. You must think like your opponents, and present arguments that will convince them, even if your own threshold has long been surpassed. Shouting “it is a conspiracy by the oil-mongers” does nothing to convince those who genuinely believe that the Iraqi occupation is morally right. By contrast, the Abu Ghraib scandal was one issue that transcended the political divide, and caused journalists like Johann Hari to change their position on the war. The photographs of two sullen SAS soldiers are not such evidence. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing does, I suppose, depend on your point of view.

The Cost of War

Since the The Independent newspaper today asks what happened to the $1bn Iraqi defence budget, it seems a good time to mention some research by an old lecturer of mine, Professor Keith Hartley.

Professor Hartley estimates that the total cost of the war in Iraq will be US$1.25 trillion. This bill will be picked up by the US and UK taxpayers, and the new Iraqi state.

“If, at the outset, the Americans anticipated the Iraq operation would cost $100 billion, they could have given Saddam Hussein and his family $20 billion to go, $50 billion to Iraq and still have had $30 billion left over. The UK would not have been involved, no-one would have died and no buildings would have been destroyed. (PDF)

Letter to Lord Falconer

Today begins what I anticipate to be a long series of posts. It shall consist of letters written to prominent politicians and public figures, asking for clarification to particularly ambiguous statements made in other parts of the media. The point raised with Lord Falconer (below) is perhaps of minor importance, but I do believe his comments are characteristic of The Government’s tendency to present non-arguments as something more substantial. Blogs and The Internet are the perfect place to examine such comments in more detail.

I am writing to ask for a clarification on comments you made to journalist Marie Woolf, published in The Independent newspaper today (5/09/2005).

You are quoted as saying:

That there was a disagreement about that issue [the decision to go to war in Iraq] should not lead to a corrosion in trust. Plainly those who disagree with us on Iraq do not in any way forfeit our trust, and it should not be vice-versa.

Regardless of whether or not the decision to go to war was correct, your comments seem to imply a willful misunderstanding of the nature of the public disagreement the Government has faced over this issue since September 2002. I suggest the Government did not lose trust because of the decision made in light of the facts available at the time. Instead, trust was forfeited due to the perceived Government duplicity concerning the veracity of those facts, and indeed the chronology of the decisions made. Likewise, the BBC also lost a great deal of trust over its presentation of the facts during the Kelly-Gilligan affair.

If you think someone is lying to you, is it not perfectly rational, sensible and prudent to trust them less? Were your comments directed towards campaigners against the decision within the public at large, or against specific sections of the media? In any case, trust is surely not a right, but something to be earned.

Oxymoron

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was… Terror. Our war began on or around 14th September 2001, when George W Bush asked for a ‘unity’ against terror that quickly became a ‘war’. Heads of States flocked to their press conference microphones to join the war, and soon an airborne armada was bombing Afghanistan.

What a shame, then, that our enemy doesn’t exist.

The word ‘terror’ means to be really, really scared of something. Common things to be scared of in this county range from being stung by a wasp, to being blown up in an aeroplane, and everything in between. But whatever, you are scared of, your ‘terror’ is an emotion, something within you. The only way we can eradicate terror is to annihilate our species… something we seem to be on course for at the moment.

When Dubya made his speech to the nation on that grief stricken Friday, he misused the word ‘terror,’ and in doing so dammed a generation to meaningless conflict. The word has now become a catchall phrase to describe any attack, for an reason, on Westerners. Almost three years later, the same man describes ‘terrorism’ as the new Nazisim. He talks about the ‘terrorist movement’ as if it were a political party, and vows to defeat it. What he fails to realise, and what will ultimately cause hundreds more deaths before the end of his presidency, is that terrorism is not an ideology, or a group, but a weapon. For all his bravado on the anniversary of D-Day, the President is fighting a battle he cannot win. It is as if he said he was going to declare war on guns. Or tanks, or stones. Though it pains me to ally myself with Dubya’s buddies at the NRA, terrorism doesn’t kill people; People kill people.

To eradicate terrorism, you need to stop people hating you, and if you want to do that, the last thing you need is a war. Instead, George W Bush sends in his troops equipped with rifles and ray-bans, and every shot they fire creates another American-hater who will pick-up terrorism, the only weapon they have, in order to fight back. The ideology that is ‘anti-Americanism’ now sees its ranks swelling to numbers that the Nazis could only dream of.

A terrifying thought.

The Case For War

If your opponent creates the rules of the game, he will win and you will lose. If you let the opposition frame the debate, the argument is all but lost.

War looms. The troops have been shipping out to the Persian Gulf for months. Now we wonder whether to provide Turkey with the protection it will surely need. The US Secretary of State asks for a second resolution that will sanction war, apparently blind to the fact that the institution he addresses, the United Nations, has its days as an effective organisation well and truly numbered. Our Prime Minister attacks us for marching against him.

The tide turns in their favour because the diplomats who matter all play the Hawks’ game by the Hawks’ rules. Only one rule matters: It is up to the anti-war lobby to prove its case. Unless a decisive and watertight argument against the war is presented, Iraq gets levelled by the twenty-fourth.

We all know how terrible a war is. We have seen the pictures on TV, in our newspapers. War truly must be the last resort, the action we take when we know that beyond reasonable doubt, all else has failed. War is so terrible, the burden of proof must always rest with those who wage it. This must be a fundamental of human politics.

As soon as the ball returns to their court, the confusion of Hawks’ case is apparent: The link between Al Q’aeda and Saddam is hearsay. The link between the CIA and both is not in question. The weapons of mass destruction have not yet materialised. Hans Blix criticises Colin Powell’s attempt to mimic Stevenson. Hans asks for more time to carry out his task.

UN sanctions have strengthened Saddam. Sanctions have killed children, and war will kill some more. Anti-Americanism (however misplaced) will increase in aftermath of an invasion which is seen as blatant imperialism by many. And at the back of our minds, we know that Bush and Cheney are both ‘oil men’ waging war against the country with the fourth most abundant supply of oil in the world.

Finally, they shout Fourteen Forty-One, and we retort with Two Forty Two.

There has been no vote in the House of Commons. The case for war has not yet been proven. We are not just on shaky ground – we are sitting on the moral equivalent of the San Andreas fault.

Despite this, we have been watching our soldiers head Eastwards, and we have come to realise that none of this matters. We are incredulous, that with so many questions to be answered, a decision has already been made… last summer. This amazement, at the complete lack of mature dialogue, is what inspired hundreds of thousands of people to walk down Piccadilly on 15th February.

We are angry that our government has not addressed any of the issues, which buzz around this war like flies around a corpse. And just like the corpse, the case for war stinks.

But somehow, we find ourselves in a situation where it is up to the peaceniks to justify their case, not the governments who wish to attack! George Bush has led the debate, and formed the rules in his own image: irrational, and leaning towards revenge. We will go to war, and it will be terrible.